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Homeless Facts

In the 2008 Homeless Count there were AT LEAST 3,062 people homeless in Metro Vancouver.

Since 2002,there has been a shocking 137% increase in overall homelessness and a 373% increase in the number of people sleeping outside. /.

Homeless Voices,2010

Listening to Metro Vancouver Residents Who Have Experienced Homelessness

Executive Summary

Introduction

The purpose of this report is to present the perspectives

of people who have experienced homelessness within the

past two years so that decision makers can respond more

effectively. This fourth round of Homeless Voices interviews

included 216 individuals in communities across Metro

Vancouver. Of the 216,20% identified as female and 32% as

aboriginal. The age range was from 19 to 70,with an average

of age of 43. Almost three quarters of the participants (155)

were living with no fixed address at the time of interview.

The interviews focused on how people became homeless,how

some became housed,and how they felt about their current

living situation.

Where are the homeless from?

The vast majority of homeless people interviewed are

locals. Over 70% of interview participants had lived in Metro

Vancouver for more than 10 years. Less than 9% had lived in

the region for less than 1 year.

How did they become homeless?

The top 3 reasons for ending up without housing were

eviction,inadequate income to pay market rents,and the

low quality of cheaper housing. Almost one third (30%) of

the participants who were currently homeless said it was the

result of eviction or a dispute with their landlord. Many spoke

of their financial circumstances,and how the shelter component

of income assistance was out of line with the rental market. For

example,a 31 year old female who had been homeless for 9

months said:“finding affordable housing is an oxymoron for

those on income assistance. Even with 2 people putting their

rent together,you can’t afford a 1-bedroom.” Many cited the

deplorable conditions in low cost market housing,such as SRO

hotel rooms. Just 12% cited addiction as the reason. Other

reasons included:end of relationship or loss of significant

other;incarceration and release from prison;fleeing abusive

relationships;illness;and being disallowed or cut-off welfare.

Extremely few said they became homeless by choice. Only

3 homeless participants (less than 2%) cited personal choice as

their reason for being homeless,dispelling the myth that people

are homeless because they choose to be.

Where did they sleep?

While homeless,people stayed in shelters (over 90%),

outdoors (over 84%),other people’s places (almost two

thirds),and/or at other locations. Other places participants

said they had slept in included cars,RVs,bathrooms,schools,

tents,squats,ATM lobbies,churches,and a cement mixer.

How did some become housed?

Almost three quarters (42) of the participants who were

housed said that it was the result of outreach services and

related programs. This suggests that homeless outreach

services and agencies are doing a remarkable job. Almost 18%

of participants who were currently housed said that it was the

result of their own initiative. About 10% said that it was the

result of assistance from family and/or friends. Significantly,

almost 7% (4) got housed through Community Court. A 47

year old male said it was ironic that “because of going to

Community Court over a shoplifting charge I’m now going

to have housing.”

How do they feel about their living situation?

Less than 1 in 6 of all participants expressed satisfaction

with their current living situation. An overwhelming majority,

84% of all participants (homeless or housed) expressed some

level of dissatisfaction with their current living situation. For

example,a 27 year old aboriginal female who was living in

market housing and had been homeless for 5 years said:“It’s

better than being homeless but it sucks. I have a baby and

it’s a dump. It’s small,nothing works but it’s difficult to find

something better.”

A large majority of those currently homeless spoke

positively about their shelter experiences. Over 76% of

participants who were currently homeless and gave an opinion

spoke positively about their shelter experience. For example,

a 54 year old male who had been homeless for 7 months said:

“I appreciate these shelters. If it wasn’t for this,God knows

where I’d be. No complaints.” Many,not all,felt that a shelter

is a temporary solution:it is a “roof over our heads” and “better

than being outside,” but “you wouldn’t want to live there very

long.” Clearly,shelters are not homes.

One quarter spoke negatively about their shelter

experiences. Some of the negative comments included a 70

year old aboriginal male who said:“I prefer to live outside to

a shelter because it is cleaner and safer.”

Of those currently housed,almost half were dissatisfied

with their accommodation. For example,a 46 year old male

who had been homeless for 6 months said:“I don’t like the

United Rooms. It’s too small. It’s got bedbugs,cockroaches

and mice problems. Not very clean. I’d like to have a better

place with my own bedroom and bathroom. I’m on disability

so I am willing to pay up to $500. I would like to find a place

outside the DTES so I can stay away from drugs.”

However,people in well run and supportive housing were

very satisfied. For example,a 35 year old aboriginal male

who had been homeless for 1 year said:“the Walton Hotel is

awesome. I love it and wouldn’t give it up for the world. It’s

clean and bug-free. The staff are helpful and respectful.”

And a 45 year old male who had been homeless for 8 years

said:“I currently live at the Jubilee in a renovated room -

safe,secure,clean. The best staff I’ve ever met in my life. In

6 months I’ve reconnected with my family,I’ve reduced my

crack cocaine use from 3-4 days/week to 1.5-2 days/week. I

sleep,replenished. I’m moving to [the Fraser Valley] to do

recovery with my mother …and eventually employment.”

Closing comments

Interviewing 216 homeless and formerly homeless individuals

was a daunting but hugely rewarding task. The participants

were genuinely appreciative of having their opinions solicited

and responded to the questions with patience,respect and

thoughtfulness.

Acknowledgements

A special thanks to all the participants for their insights and

candor. Thanks to the Homeless Voices Working Group:Allison

Jones,Craig Hathaway,Gloria Wilson,James Pratt,Judy

Graves,Karen O’Shannacery,Les Merson,Sam Lehman,and

Tanya Fink. Thanks also to the shelters,agencies and their staff

who assisted with this project. The City of Vancouver and the

Leon and Thea Koerner Foundation made this project possible

through grants to the Greater Vancouver Shelter Strategy.